Citizenship hardens up

11th July 2003 at 01:00
Politicians who have suddenly discovered the virtues of citizenship education or global education could have no better lesson than to read the piece we carry this week by Sir Nicholas Young, chief executive officer of the British Red Cross (page 19). It represents a major advance on what we might term the soft approaches of the past towards the concept of "active citizenship". He was in Scotland recently to launch a new Red Cross teaching pack which is nothing if not challenging. This is not just about theoretical studies of far-away conflicts but includes in-your-face images of child soldiers and gang rape. "Tough stuff," as Sir Nicholas acknowledges.

Modern studies teachers in Scotland may well argue that citizenship education is not new. Their own subject has long moved away from "the politics of government" approach to embrace issues such as human rights, diverse societies and cultural respect (although it is interesting that a recent study by the Modern Studies Association found that, apart from the topic of "ethnic minorities in the USA", international issues still come low down the choices for pupils taking Higher - 22 schools reported pupils studying global security, for example, compared with 260 doing uk elections).

There is no doubt that schools have some way to go to capitalise on the active citizenship that Sir Nicholas Young was extolling. But it is schools as a whole that have to do this - and in more imaginative ways than the subject-based approach taken south of the border. Citizenship in its broadest sense is what we should be about, creating an internationalist outlook among young people, not a subject reduced to the bizarre brew in England where teachers have been asked to stream children into citizenship ability groups.

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